Scientists using wheat gluten to make super absorbent materials are expected to be used in “environmentally friendly” diapers.

Disposable diapers are definitely not environmentally friendly, not only because of their plastic casings, but also because of their petroleum-based absorbent inner layers,media New Atlas reported. But soon there will be a more sustainable alternative, made from wheat gluten. As the main protein of wheat, wheat gluten is known for its high water absorption. It is a residual by-product of wheat starch and ethanol — meaning wheat is grown not just to produce gluten, so the crop can still be used as a food or fuel source.

For diaper layer materials, an international team of scientists first changed the chemical composition of natural gluten, increasing its ability to expand and absorb liquids by 10 times. To make their structure more cohesive, they also added extracts from tweezers. This allows gluten molecules to interconnect with each other.

The resulting biopolymers are said to have an expansion rate of up to 4000 per cent in water and up to 600 per cent in saline solutions, similar to other bio-based materials that are not extracted from by-products (which may make them less sustainable). What’s more, scientists believe that by adjusting the formulation of the material, its absorbent properties can eventually be comparable to that of petroleum-based synthetic materials.

In the future, this biopolymer could be used not only for diapers, but also for personal hygiene and medical products, as well as for flood mitigation and the keeping of agricultural rainwater.

A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems. The scientists involved in the study were from the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Kyoto University in Japan.